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March 31. 2013 8:43AM

Disgruntled UNH fans don't know how good they have it


 

MANCHESTER



HERE'S the problem with reporting on criticism of a public figure: Such reporting is often seized upon - by supporters and detractors of the criticized figure alike - as criticism itself.

So it came as no surprise when, after referring to University of New Hampshire hockey coach Dick Umile as "at once the most successful and most criticized head coach in UNH history" in a column published Saturday, I received an email complimenting the piece and questioning why Umile remains the Wildcats' coach.

Similar responses to the piece from Umile's detractors followed, while some Umile supporters bristled that the matter of fan discontent with Umile was brought up at all.

So let me make this clear: I believe the University of New Hampshire is very fortunate to have had Dick Umile as its head coach for 23 seasons. I believe that when the Wildcats took the ice against UMass Lowell for Saturday night's NCAA Northeast Regional final, UNH was fortunate that Umile was once again behind the bench at Verizon Wireless Arena.

And, even after a depleted UNH squad lost 2-0 to Lowell Saturday night - or make that especially after Saturday night's defeat - I believe that when the 2013-14 season rolls around, the Wildcats will be fortunate to have Umile still leading a program that has made 18 NCAA tournament appearances during his commendably scandal-free tenure.

To those of you who look forward to the day when Umile no longer is coaching the 'Cats, I say this: Be careful what you wish for.

Is Umile the most brilliant X's and O's guy in college hockey? Probably not. Does he year-in, year-out bring in the most talented recruiting class? No. Is he put forth a dynamic public face for the university? He'd probably laugh at that one.

But collectively, what Umile gives UNH is what supporters of any reputable program in major college sports should want: stability, integrity and a consistently high level of competitive excellence.

Yes, a national championship has eluded him, and maybe in a given year another coach might have delivered the title to which so many UNH fans feel entitled. We'll never know. Nor will we know at what cost that speculative title might have come. What we do know is that the Wildcats have been to the NCAA tournament 14 of the last 16 seasons and have done so without any of the kinds of scandals that have plagued fellow Hockey East programs such as Boston College, Boston University and Maine in the years since Umile became UNH's head coach.

Speaking of BC, criticism of Umile by UNH fans calls to mind complaints about Tom O'Brien when he was the Eagles' head football coach.

O'Brien took over a scandal-plagued program at the end of 1996 and, after two 4-7 seasons, went 67-31 over the next eight years, won seven straight bowl games and regularly claimed a graduation rate that was among the nation's best. And for all that, BC fans complained that the brand of football O'Brien's teams played wasn't exciting enough and the bowl games weren't prestigious enough and O'Brien wasn't personable enough.

After the 2006 season, O'Brien's critics got what they wanted when he left The Heights for North Carolina State. BC's record since then: 41-37, including a combined 6-18 the past two years.

So, yes, I believe UNH fans should appreciate what they have in Dick Umile.

Now if he'd only go out and win that national championship.



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Vin Sylvia is a New Hampshire Union Leader deputy managing editor. Email him at vsylvia@unionleader.com. Follow him on Twitter @vinsylvia.


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